Soapbox features allow our individual writers and contributors to offer their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they’ve been munching on. Today, on his 15th anniversary, Jim makes the case for a forgotten Wii classic…
If there’s one thing the Wii has always stood out for, it’s family-friendly multiplayer. Gone are the days of explaining to an elderly relative what different triggers and key combinations do, instead it was a matter of swapping your grandmother’s sherry for a white plastic rectangle, standing her in front of the screen and watching her sift through them Shades of Huhu struck. ha from an animated opponent in the boxing ring.
The console’s simplicity was its biggest selling point, and boy did it have the games to match. Mostly first-party titles like Wii Sports, Wii Play,
Wii musicand WarioWare Smooth Moves will always dominate those conversations, and rightly so – they were, and still are, incredibly funny. There’s no way this will be a piece that says, “hmm, Actually, Wii Sports wasn’t everything“, because that would be a blatant lie – never be that person. However, there’s one title that almost never gets included in discussions about family-friendly Wii titles, especially in the sports genre: EA Playground.
it was all about good-natured fun with your dead-eyed, always-staring avatar buddies
Let’s start right away by saying that I don’t think Playground was unconditional better as Wii Sports. The playable avatars had cold dead eyes, the motion controls were a little jerky, and the single-player mode was all about collecting stickers or marbles or whatever a board of 40-something men thought was a trending currency for kids back then.
But what I do believe is that this title has been well and truly slept through for the past 15 years, and it’s about time someone put that right.
The Wii had enough games in the sports genre to fill its memory banks three times. Aside from ports of NBA Live, Fifa, Virtua Tennis, and Tiger Woods’ PGA Tour (which always felt so out of place on console), the sports collections – your Wii Sports Resorts, Mario Sports Mixes – were the focal point and Pivot controls could really shine. These were titles where the whole idea was to throw a bunch of sports together, knowing that while some are better than others, that’s okay as you can always move on to something else.
However, for EA Playground, the game collection had no weak points. Sure, it’s difficult to call any of the game modes “sports” like we would boxing or baseball, but were they competitive and challenging? If you saw the sweat I produced playing this game in my youth, you would have no doubt about it.
Playground’s main game featured seven different “sports” – yes, that’s right seven – from super-athletic (wallball, dodgeball, a weird volleyball-soccer hybrid called kicks) to games that belong only on the playground (paper airplanes and RC racing). This series brought with it a certain low-stakes charm that was not found in other sports collections. You weren’t playing in a giant ballpark or against a team of dragons and mushrooms, it was just good-natured fun with your dead-eyed, always-staring Avatar buddies.
While Wii Sports was all about bringing the thrill of the big game to Nintendo’s latest console, Playground was for the little ones.
To the game’s credit, each sport felt different from Playground despite effectively using the same controls over and over again. What are the controls for Dodgeball? Well, you move with the d-pad and then swing the remote control to throw the ball. What about kicks? Well, you move with the d-pad and then swing the remote control to kick the ball. tetherball? This one is a little different: there’s no movement, so forget the d-pad, just swing the remote to hit the ball. But these weren’t always the same games. There were different techniques you had to learn to use for each, which meant the game required some semblance of skill and practice. Don’t expect to take your same d-pad moving and long-distance swinging game from dodgeball to wallball. These AI kids will eat you alive.
The uniqueness of each mode was aided by a range of game-specific music tracks to differentiate between the relaxing of, say, Paper Racers and the intense battlefield of Dart Shootout – a Foam Dart FPS that was in no way related to Nerf™. While there’s no part of the soundtrack that comes close to Wii Sports’ aerial mastery – featuring some of my favorite game tunes of all time – it helped Playground feel like you weren’t doing the same thing over and over again.
Unless of course it was you. This game had fantastic replay value. Imagine how personally offended you felt every time Wii Sports’ Matt beat you in tennis. Now bring that into a story mode and you can imagine how intense the rivalry was. Yes, there was an odd amount of the single-player “campaign” that involved collecting stickers to improve your athletic performance (apparently that elementary school let doping slip), but if you provided a rival in each sport , it meant you weren’t going to just go head-to-head against a CPU. It was personal.
Simply put, reviews for Playground back then were mixed, to say the least. They would improve ever so slightly for the game’s DS release, but ultimately the title was left behind. And why? Because it wasn’t Wii Sports.
But just because a game isn’t another game is that reason enough to forget about it? It’s true, EA Playground isn’t Wii Sports – the avatars have legs, for one – but it doesn’t exactly try to be either. While Wii Sports was about bringing the thrill of the big game to Nintendo’s latest console, Playground was for the little ones, courtesy of small indie label Electronic Arts.
Yes, it might not reach the heights of some of the console’s other releases, but it deserves the right to be held up and remembered alongside them.
Do you have fond memories of EA Playground? Suppose it was scoop goods and never gave it a chance? Let us know below.